After magazines and newspapers migrated online, they needed to find a substitute for their old paid subscriptions. So in 2011, The New York Times was one of the first major newspapers to introduce paid access to its posts. That was a pretty risky move back then because some market participants did not believe that users would pay for content on a consistent basis. Yet despite this, in 2020, The New York Times reported 4 million paying subscribers. An inspiring story, but how can a website owner with a smaller audience attract paid subscribers?
Features of introducing a paywall
Large and popular resources manage to make their paywall bring in considerable income (enough to rival even ad revenue). For example, Financial Times reports 67% of readers to pay to have access to their paid content.
If the website is still small and just gaining ground, a paywall can reduce ad revenue. Another significant disadvantage for such resources is the fact that the closed part of the content is not indexed by search engines. If the website closes off access to its content entirely, it will do serious damage to the former’s SEO. That’s why there are several paywall models that are suitable for different resources, depending on the conditions.
Subscribers are also not too crazy about you increasing your prices. Statistics show that when prices increase, with the volume and quality of the content remaining the same, a fraction of the subscribers abandon the website. The cost of returning an unsubscribed user is several times higher than the cost of acquiring new ones.
To motivate their users, some websites offer a one-month free trial to let the person try out the paid content. Another way to retain subscribers is to make removing a payment tool (credit card) from their account more complicated. In some cases, the person needs to contact tech support to unsubscribe. It’s not the most ethical method, but it is still used and it works.
Where else are paid subscriptions used besides the media
Nowadays, the paywall monetization scheme is used by more than just media outlets. Users are being exposed to increasingly more content, and it’s not always of high quality. People are willing to pay for valuable, relevant information, as well as for being able to enjoy content without ads.
If you don’t have your own popular resource or enough ad budget, but you produce unique and interesting content, you can use third-party services to attract paid subscribers.
Here are some of the options:
- A private Telegram channel
- A Patreon or Boosty blog
- A Youtube sponsorship offer
Today, there are multiple technologies that let you monetize your content, but your project’s profitability will depend on your audience, content, and plan. In order to make money off a paid subscription, it’s crucial to properly identify the paywall model you need to use. A strategy that is too harsh can alienate users and damage the resource’s popularity in the process. Even large media outlets were forced to face this problem and make the subscription more available as a result. To calculate this, you need to know how many permanent users the resource has, how often they visit it and how many unique users it generates. Using this data, you can identify the number of potential paying subscribers and choose an appropriate paywall strategy.
As we mentioned, paywall strategies differ in the exact ways they deliver closed content to users.
Access to content for non-subscribed users is completely restricted. This strategy can only be employed by very well-known brands. If smaller resources try this model, they will significantly lower their ad revenue, the overall number of impressions and damage their SEO. Even websites as large as The Times or The Sun rejected the rigid paywall model and switched over to more flexible options. Still, if the resource provides exclusive content in a narrowly thematic area, such a model can be effective. For example, it works great in specialized forums, scientific websites, and expert-opinion resources.
Partial access to content for users without a paid subscription. This strategy is currently the most popular one even among large websites. It allows you to interest the user in the content you offer, and then restrict access to the rest of the information.
The metrics by which the user is asked to pay for access differ. For example, the reader may have access to part of the article, with the rest being unlocked only for paid subscribers. The resource can also allow regular users to read-only a specific number of articles a day/week/month, with the subscription removing this limit. A soft paywall is effective in that it does not interfere with SEO promotion because some of the content is still available for viewing by search bots and lets you still show ads to the non-subscribers too.
This strategy offers paid access to part of the content. A hybrid paywall is most suitable for resources that have already formed an audience of regular readers that are ready to pay for access to unique content. There are also multiple different ways to offer paid content. It can be unique paid materials, unavailable to all users. A hybrid paywall can also be offered to the most active readers that visit the website a lot more than all the others.
By paying for a premium paywall, the user receives not only the unique content but also additional bonuses. These can be free tickets to events, the author’s unique content, a meeting with the publisher, merch, or a club invitation. This model is typically used by websites, brands, and bloggers with a loyal audience. At the same time, this is a more loyal scheme compared to a soft paywall. A premium subscription does not force the reader to pay for the content, instead offering fans additional perks.
Paywall payment models
Here are the most popular payment models:
- Monthly payments — the more popular option. It is convenient for the user in that the payments made are insignificant and it lets the person unsubscribe at any time. The service can also offer a cheaper subscription for an entire year, thereby motivating the user to subscribe for longer;
- A yearly subscription provides the service with a smaller audience but makes it more loyal. A user who decides to pay a larger amount is more likely to be a more devoted customer;
- Lifetime access is a suitable choice for a narrow category of resources. Usually, it works best when combined with a rigid subscription strategy for highly professional and expert communities and services. This model can prove to be a bit too pricey for regular news and media outlets, plus it can damage their marketability;
- Multiservice subscriptions are a popular choice for ecosystems that can offer multiple services in a single package. For example, Piano is a popular paywall installation service offering subscriptions to several online websites in one package.
Is a paywall suitable for you?
Offering paid content is becoming more and more popular. The more affluent the audience, the more likely they are to become paid subscribers. For projects with modest budgets and small coverage, the more effective option would be to use a paywall on 3rd party platforms, like paid blogs and channels. If the resource has a medium and large regular audience, as well as a constant flow of new, unique content, you can connect your paywall directly to the site and monetize its users.
This article was written in partnership with Galaksion.